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Studies Highlight Ethnic Inequalities In Cancer Rates

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Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Studies Highlight Ethnic Inequalities In Cancer Rates

Wellington, Dec 7 NZPA - Health services must work further to reduce ethnic inequalities, both through prevention programmes and quality health care services, according to two studies by Otago University.

The first report, examining trends in cancer incidence by ethnic and socioeconomic groups in New Zealand from 1981 to 2004, found that endometrial and thyroid cancer rates were consistently three times higher among Pacific women than European women, study leader Professor Tony Blakely said today.

"Obesity may be a partial reason why endometrial cancer rates are higher among Pacific women, but it is far from a complete explanation," he said today.

Conversely, there were cancers where the rates are highest among Europeans, melanoma being the most obvious example, he said.

"Other examples included brain, colorectal (although Maori rates are approaching European rates over time) and bladder cancers.

Cervical cancer rates had halved in 25 years, and fell most dramatically among Maori and Pacific women.

"This is presumably due to cervical cancer screening," Prof Blakely said.

Nevertheless, rates in 2001-04 were still twice as high among Maori and Pacific women compared to European women, indicating the need to increase Maori and Pacific participation in screening further.

Lung cancer had also increased since 1981 for both Maori and European women, but decreased for both Maori and European men.

"At any one point in time, though, Maori rates were two to three times European rates, and rates among low income groups up to twice high income groups," Prof Blakely said.

Breast cancer rates had increased in all ethnic groups, but most rapidly amongst Maori women, whose rates were a third higher than European rates in 2001-04.

High income women consistently had 10 percent to 20 percent higher rates than low income women.

The second report, The Burden of Cancer, combined the incidence rates with cancer survival and mortality data, and determined a composite measure of "burden". This burden measured years of life lost due to early death from cancer, and years of life lived in less than full health.

Maori cancer burden per head of population was greater than non-Maori.

"This is due to the combined effect of often having higher incidence rates, and just about always having worse survival (rates) once diagnosed.

"For example, the Maori burden was over three times the non-Maori burden for lung, liver and testicular cancer, and two to three times greater for cervical, laryngeal, stomach and endometrial cancers.

Prof Blakely said the health services had a role in reducing these ethnic inequalities, both through prevention programmes and quality health care services.

Among men, lung, prostate and colorectal cancers were the three top ranked cancers in burden for both Maori and non-Maori.

Prostate cancer was the highest ranked among non-Maori (17 percent of all non-Maori male cancer burden) whereas among Maori males lung cancer was the highest ranked (24.1 percent).

Among women, both Maori and non-Maori, breast, lung and colorectal were the three highest ranked cancers in terms of burden. However, among Maori, lung cancer was nearly as great as the breast cancer burden, Prof Blakely said.

The studies were funded by the Health Research Council of New Zealand with support from the Ministry of Health.

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